Monday, February 25, 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar Sunday, and I have to talk about shrimp.

On the second most holy of American holidays (after Superbowl Sunday), I am reduced to discussing shrimp instead of what Jennifer Lawrence is wearing (OMGdidyouseethatdresssohawt!).  As usual, I am referring to some pile of word-ordure by the Turbulent Scientist.

He seems to suggest that those on the right are idiots who have pet shrimp that should NOT be permitted exercise.  This is clearly absurd, since the right has historically loved prisons (although now they prefer for-profit ones) and prisoners are routinely allowed exercise.  The Turbulent Scientist's characterization is dangerously close to an ad hominem attack, which should never be used by a true scientist.

The reason Huckabee and other conservatives misrepresent certain science projects as wasteful is simply that they make for good sound bites.  Sometimes this backfires, as when Bobby Jindal used federal spending on volcano monitoring as fodder for a pithy remark: "Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington."  Of course, the danger of such comments became clear several weeks later after an eruption in Alaska.

To be fair, one could argue that Republicans are not uniquely guilty of misrepresenting or exaggerating facts to make some political point.  But as any good parent would tell their child, that doesn't make it right.

But why do Republicans pick on science?  Is it because studies like the treadmill shrimp cost mega-dollars?  I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out what fraction $1000 is of the federal budget.  The reason is that scientists make up a pretty small and geographically diverse constituency group, so when they make such statements they're unlikely to lose many votes at their next election.  This is partly why, when asked to name the parts of the budget they'd cut, Republicans become curiously cagey.  They do want to cut programs – not because they're wasteful though – and such cuts won't be popular, so they don't want to risk voter backlash without having a good chance of actually getting those cuts.

So, good science gets scapegoated, and the Turbulent Scientist embarrasses himself again.  More importantly, are KStew and the pale guy still together?  Hope they mention that on the red carpet....

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"He is absolutely correct on this."

Turdblossom strikes again, but this time at least he was able to use the quarter of his brain that still functions (I think he overdosed on butter growing up) and recognize that I – as usual – was right after all.  To quoth: "ACTUALLY, before my friend, the idiot, calls me out on it, [blah blah sciencey blah] ...  He is absolutely correct on this."  I assume Knuckle-blisters over there only has access to his working brain parts for very brief intervals, since shortly before that admission he appears to claim I am unaware of the difference between actual butterflies and pictures of flies on sticks of butter.  I should have known my piercing, ingenious wit would fly right over his buttery noodle!

Enough about that blatherskite.  You ever think science is evil?  I don't, because I do it every day and humans are very good about rationalizing their behavior (Hitler never thought he was doing evil – even Will Smith knows that!).  Science is very powerful, and the arrow of time points to disorder, so evil uses of science are probably inevitable.  But what is so special about science?

Before I answer that, let me explain why my formidable mind has this topic at the top of its queue.  Recently the New York Times Magazine had an excellent piece on food companies, junk food, and rising obesity.  It's long, but absolutely worth the read (an impassioned endorsement here).  Bottom line: snacks are specifically formulated to make you eat as much of them as possible.  At some level, the companies are required to do this, since as corporations they have to – by law – maximize profits.  But without scientific methods, they wouldn't have succeeded so spectacularly so quickly, and with such devastating results for the nation's health.

Science is just a methodology, or way of doing things.  Observe some phenomena, come up with some guesses as to what causes/explains it, and try to figure out what guess, if any, is right.  The power of this approach doesn't emerge, however, until we keep track of everyone's observations, guesses, and tests.  In this situation, progress can be quick since bad ideas can't last.  Aristotle's ideas, for example, were completely wrong and yet persisted for TWO THOUSAND YEARS, because that's not what was done (and in the Platonic worldview, it should be sufficient to just sit around and think about things, just like some theorists I know).  When ideas are free – but falsifiable ones not tolerated – it's amazing what we can learn.

But, there's no moral compass: if you want to efficiently find out how to get people to try, buy, and become addicted to your food-like product irrespective of the consequences, then – as Greg Kelly would say –

To summarize:
1) Science is a tool, like a hammer: use it to build a house for your neighbor, or to bash his head in.
2) Plato and Aristotle were assholes.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Butterflies? More like Butter Flies...

I was feeling pretty good tonight — had a pie plate worth of salad (oh, the very best way to eat leafy greens), baked avocados with egg, and some strawberries in yogurt.  I was energized; so much so, I thought I'd jump online and see what the internet was up to.  Big mistake.

It was up to this.

First of all, is there anyone out there in the weather predicting community, anyone, who would claim, even for a second, that a butterfly's hapless flapping could cause any appreciable change in weather at any point?  Not if they are at all competent.  I mean, if the tiniest of pressure fluctuations could impact the weather so, what would the result of a baseball stadium full of fans doing "the wave" be?  Tornadoes, that's what.  While I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the turdblossom over at The Turbulent Scientist suggested that does indeed happen, he'd be — surprise, surprise — completely wrong.
What I think of the term "the butterfly effect."
The true tragedy is that the concept behind the term "the butterfly effect" is real and extremely cool, despite being poorly named.  Of course, turdblossom totally glossed over this point, so here I am to the rescue again.  The concept is that even if we can describe something completely with deterministic laws, it is practically impossible to predict the future.  Take Angry Birds for example: imagine you're shooting the bomber bird at a complex tower and need to time the drop of the bomb-egg perfectly.  If you're like me, it'll take several tries to maximize the elimination of those greedy pigs.  Sometimes, despite how similar the angle of launch and the timing of the drop is attempt to attempt, each try will get wildly different results.   Sometimes I crush all the despicable if delicious pigs, sometimes I miss each and every one.  Even though each attempt is very similar, the slight differences between them lead to very different outcomes.  Systems like this are called chaotic (yup, the technical term), and the study of such systems falls under the purview of chaos theory.

Weather can also be chaotic, but not because of butterflies.  Sometimes small differences in place-to-place temperatures, pressures, etc., can lead to very different weather predictions.  But these small differences are still much bigger than even a swarm of flies whizzing around a rancid pile of butter could produce.

And oh, let me just mention how CUTE The Turbulent Scientist's little tool is.  That's nice that they could paint a cheesy little sea monster on it.  You can't do that to my tools, because they're in OUTER SPACE:

NuSTAR, the great and powerful.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Some Data are Better Than Others

Some embarrassments on the interweb are not worthy of notice, but some must be stopped before they can spread their poison to the innocents.  It saddens me that I must be the one to debunk this tomfoolery, but someone must rise to defeat evil, or we're all doomed.

Firstly, I must concede that he is technically correct about data being data.  But he is soooo wrong about me having "data envy."  I mean, sometimes I literally get THOUSANDS of photons.  Know what I can do with them?  Lots.  And you know what's really cool?  They come (usually) from things millions of light-years away, not invented in some lame, Earth-bound adding machine.

However, these things I study do tend to always be "background dominated."  Hence the name of the blog.  Background is like static, or noise, in a detector.  Since we only get new telescopes, like NuSTAR, once in a blue moon, we work hard to detect the faintest things we can, which means searching for signals in the static.  That's what you see in the background of this blog — the noisy "background" from one of the detectors on the NuSTAR hard X-ray observatory.

The Turbulent Scientist's data are like imaginary friends.  Sure, you can invent tons of these "friends," but at the end of the day, they don't really exist.  I may not have as many friends, but at least they exist.  BOOM!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Speaking of this Turbulent Scientist fellow, I hear he simulates fake accretion disks around stars and black holes.  He calls the result of these simulations "data."  Let me tell you, that's just a bunch of hooey.  Can he compare his results directly to observations?  Heck no.  So he can say whatever he likes, and no one can point to REAL data and tell him he's either right or (more likely) wrong.  Is that science?  Look up the definition of science, and you tell me.

Just another reason to ignore this horror-show of a blog.  Bah.
Welcome.  I was all excited to share the wonders of my life and X-ray astronomy with the world, but then I happened upon The Turbulent Scientist.  Now I must devote this blog to undermining all the nonsense, baloney, absurdity, bunk, claptrap, foolishness, inanity, and thoughtless ranting prattle that that poor excuse for a blog is destined to become.  I mean, did you SEE the opening post?  First of all, it went on and on -- I nodded off part way through -- and at the end I could barely remember where I was or what I was doing, so little was said with so many pointless words.

This guy must be one incredible loser.  He probably doesn't even have the fortitude to change out of his PJs on a Saturday, and yet he thinks actual upright citizens will care about his two cents!  The gall!  With your help, humble Internet, we shall shame him back to the sad silence from whence he came.  It probably won't be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

I mean, I bought a soldering iron today.  Want to know why?  I'd like you to know why.  It'd make you a better person, the knowing, I can tell you that.  But you won't find out, not until HE has been exterminated!